Thursday, July 3, 2014

Essentials Of Islam — Knowledge and Guidance

Assalam Walaikum.

The following are my transcribed notes from the Seeker's Guidance course "Absolute Essentials Of Islam" conducted by Sheikh Faraz Rabbani, Ustadh Abdullah Misri and Ustadha Shireen Ahmed. The course is based on the textbook of the same name by Sheikh Faraz Rabbani which is a short manual on matters of Faith and Practice according to the Sunni Hanafi School of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence. A bulk of the course focuses on matters related to Purification and Prayer while briefly touching upon the fundamentals of Zakat and Fasting.

For the introduction we will be focusing on the Way of Guidance to understanding the Quran and Sunnah, and exploring the three dimensions of our religion: Imaan (Faith), Islam (Submission) and Ihsan (Excellence). In this article I will, insha'Allah, be answering the following questions:
  • What is the importance of Knowledge? What is the proper manner (adab) of attaining it? 
  • What is the Spirit? What is its purpose? How do we succeed in achieving it? 
  • What is the Islamic definition of Guidance? Why is it important? How must we acquire it? 
  • What is the Hadith of Gabriel and what is its importance in elucidating to us our creed?

What is the importance of seeking Knowledge? The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, has said,
"Whoever Allah wishes well for, He grants them the knowledge of religion."
[Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 3, Hadith no. 71]
Knowledge of religion is important because it helps in fulfilling the purpose of our life. And, insha'Allah, we will soon be touching upon that topic in details but to sum it shortly, the purpose of our life is to please Allah subhana wa ta'ala and attaining His Pleasure in this life for the eternal reward in the afterlife. We do this through the means of worship, and knowledge allows us to perfect our worship of Him by making it sound, proper and valid. The central mission of this course is to provide us with that knowledge.

Knowledge is important in practice because knowing leads us to acting and acting leads us to sincerity. By knowing of the myriad methods of worshiping Allah and striving for His Pleasure we are more prone to acting upon them and with greater sincerity. This is the benefit of Knowledge. But how must we attain it? What are the basic principles to follow for the Seeker of Knowledge?

The adab of attaining knowledge entails three actions: the Seeker of Knowledge must come to the table prepared to learn what he seeks, be attentive in absorbing it and diligent in reviewing it. Sounds basic enough, right? Well, it is. Preparation beforehand is important because imagine showing up to a mathematics class expecting it's elementary Italian. You aren't prepared to do all those number crunching equations, you are there to learn how to order pizza in its native tongue. You didn't sign up for this. What to do now? You are unprepared. So yes, that's your first principle.

The second and third are also pretty academic and does not need much explaining. You cannot really learn anything if the teacher is explaining the fiqh of fasting while you are jelly-fishing inside your head. And to solidify what you have learned in class, it is obvious that you must review it. Remember, everyone has photographic memory but most people are out of film.

Now that we have touched upon the adab of learning and acquiring knowledge, it is time to move into the key details of our course material. We begin by learning about the Ruh, that is, the Spirit. What is the Spirit? What is this Ruh? The Ruh is one of the three components that makes the human being truly a human being. The other two are the Qalb (the Heart) and the Nafs (the Soul). The Ruh is the delicate subtlety within ourselves by which we exist. And what does this Ruh yearn for? What is its true calling? The Ruh's true calling is its Reunion with the Lord.

The Ruh, that is, the Spirit, was created in Heaven and made to submit before its Lord. This is the natural state (Fitrah) of its existence. That is, the Spirit is inclined by default to be in submission before our Lord. Such is the Divine Plan of God. Therefore, every time we perform an action that causes us to turn away from the Lord, that causes us to disobey God, our Spirit is cast into a state of unrest. The Spirit craves to submit and reunite with God. And this is the Purpose of Life. The purpose of our lives is the calling that our Spirits crave for. Until then, the Spirit, and subsequently the Heart, cannot find rest. That is why Allah tells us in the Quran,
"Verily, in the Remembrance of Allah do Hearts find rest." (13:28)
And this Remembrance is our Guidance. This Remembrance is the Way back to our Lord, the Path to our Salvation, and that is why in reciting this Remembrance do our Hearts and our Spirits and our Souls find peace, rest and tranquility. This Remembrance is the Quran.

The parable of our existence in this world and our journey to the next is like that of a group of people waking up inside a train. Some of the people wake up within the train without any knowledge of how they got there and where it is heading. However, regardless of their lack of understanding, they do not seek to know. They are complacent with being there and resigned to their fate, whatever it may be. Then there is a group of people who are inside the train and they get too attached to the various luxuries presented to them within the train. They have no intention of getting off even though at some point they must. Finally, there is a group of people who enjoy the luxuries presented to them within the train but they are also prepared to leave when the time comes. They only eat and drink and savor the joys of being in the train as much as needed to sustain them until they arrive at their destination. This third group of people display the attitude of the believer.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has said, "An intelligent person is one who takes themselves into account." This third party of people mentioned are those who take themselves to account. They are aware of their standing and actively preparing themselves for the destination that is to come. Some of them long for it. But how do we, ourselves, prepare for it? How can we be of those among the third group of people? Where is our instruction manual? We have to understand that our Spirit is craving for this fast approaching Destination and it is desperately yearning to get ready. That is why in reading and preparing for the End to our Journey do our Spirit and Heart find peace and rest. And the Guidance to do that, the instruction manual, is none but the Holy Quran.

Allah subhana wa ta'ala has revealed within the Quran the answer to our Spirit's eternal craving. And this answer is,
"Ihdinas Sirat al-Mustaqim" (1:6)
That is, the plea,
"Guide us to the Straight Path of the Righteous."
This Verse, this Prayer, is the Key to our Salvation. It is the answer, God's Answer, to the innate craving of our Spirit,
"O restless Spirit of Man, say: Guide us to the Straight Path, and I shall guide you to Me!"

This is the Purpose of Life. It is the Journey on the Straight Path of the Righteous towards the Eternal Reunion with God. The purpose of our life is nothing more than to perfect our relationship with Allah subhana wa ta'ala by following His Guidance embedded within the Quran. And how do we know that the Guidance laid down to us in the Holy Quran is the Truth? We know it because of the Divine Promise from the Lord, our God:
"Inna nahnu nazzalna al-dhikr wa inna lahu lahafidun" (15:9)
Which, translated in meaning and interpretation into the English language, reads as,
"Verily, it is We Who has revealed to you this Remembrance and it is We Who shall preserve it."
The word "dhikr" i.e. "Remembrance" here is of importance because it means that Allah subhana wa ta'ala has not only promised to preserve the words of the Quran but He shall also preserve its understanding and wisdom. This is the purpose of Prophethood, that is, they have been sent to convey the Message of Allah to all of humanity and teach us the wisdom to apply it in our daily lives. In the aforementioned Verse of the Quran, Allah subhana wa ta'ala assures us that the Quran is indeed Godsent and Preserved. It is our Guide to Eternal Bliss and Salvation.

Allah subhana wa ta'ala has stated that whoever He wishes well for, He grants them the Knowledge of Religion and this Sacred Knowledge has been directly transmitted to us through the Prophets to the Scholars as it has been said,
"The Scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets."
It has also been narrated that the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said,
"My community shall never unite upon falsehood."
"There shall always remain a group among my community manifest on the Truth."
These narrations are important because it tells us how to seek out the proper interpretation of the Remembrance and Guidance that Allah has laid down for us through the Prophets. From the above narrations we conclude that the way to find out the most precise understanding of Allah's Guidance and Remembrance is to follow the mainstream Scholars who are the inheritors of the Prophets. They are the united majority group manifest on the Truth, the Ulema of the Ahlus Sunnah w'al-Jama'ah. And the litmus test to gauge the accuracy of the interpretation of God's Remembrance and Guidance is to calibrate its closeness to Mercy for the Essence of Guidance is Mercy as said by Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, "Every teaching of Islam is a manifestation of Divine Mercy, and any practice of Islam lacking in mercy is devoid of proper understanding."

Thus far we have covered the importance of seeking knowledge, the etiquette of seeking knowledge and the transmission of knowledge itself in the creed of Islam. We discussed how the gift of knowledge has been relayed from Allah to His Prophets and the Prophets to the Scholars. Now we will be discussing the Hadith of Gabriel and the three dimensions of belief in our religion: Imaan, Islam and Ihsan.

What is the Hadith of Gabriel? The Hadith of the Archangel Gabriel is a narration related to us by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim on the authority of Hazrat Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him. It can be found in the first volume of Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 2, Hadith no. 48, and Sahih al-Muslim, Book 1, Hadith no. 4.

The narration from Sahih Bukhari goes,
One day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, the Archangel Gabriel came and asked, "What is Imaan (Faith)?"
Allah's Apostle replied, "Faith is to believe in Allah, His angels, the Meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection."
Then he further asked, "What is Islam (Submission)?"
Allah's Apostle replied, "To worship Allah Alone and no-one else, to offer prayers perfectly, to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan."
Then he further asked, "What is Ihsan (Excellence)?"
Allah's Apostle replied, "To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion then you must consider that He is looking at you."
Then he further asked, "When will the Hour be established?"
Allah's Apostle replied, "The one who answers has no better knowledge than the one who questions. However, I will inform you of its portents — When a slave lady gives birth to her master, and when the shepherds of black camels start boasting and competing with others in the construction of tall buildings. And the Hour is one of five things which nobody knows except Allah."
The Prophet then recited, "Verily, with Allah Alone is the knowledge of the Hour."
Following this Gabriel left and the Prophet asked his companions to call him back, but they could not see him. The Prophet then said, "That was the Archangel Gabriel who came to teach the people their religion." Abu 'Abdullah said, "He considered all that as tenets of Faith."
The narration from Sahih Muslim goes,
One day the Messenger of Allah, may peace be upon him, appeared before the public and a man came to him and asked, "Prophet of Allah, what is Imaan (Faith)?
Upon this the Prophet replied, "That you affirm you believe in Allah, His angels, His Books, the meeting with Him, His Messengers and that you affirm you believe in the Resurrection hereafter.
He then asked, "Messenger of Allah, what does Islam (Submission) entail?
The Prophet replied, "Islam signifies that you worship Allah Alone and do not associate anything with Him and you establish obligatory prayer and you pay the obligatory charity (Zakat) and you observe the fast of Ramadan.
He then asked, "Messenger of Allah, what does Ihsan (Excellence) imply?"
The Prophet replied, "That you worship Allah as if you are seeing Him, and in case you fail to see Him, then observe prayer with this idea in your mind that at least He is seeing you.
He then asked, "Messenger of Allah, when would there be the establishment of the Hour of Doom?
The Prophet replied, "The one who is asked about it is no better informed than the one who asks. I, however, can narrate some of its Signs — when the slave girl will give birth to her master, and when the naked and barefooted would become the chiefs of the people — these are some of the Signs of the Doomsday. Moreover, when the shepherds of the black camels would exult themselves in buildings, this is one of the Signs of the Doomsday. The Doomsday is one of the five happenings wrapped in the Unseen of which no-one knows about but Allah Alone.
Then the Messenger of Allah recited the Verse:" Verily Allah! with Him Alone is the Knowledge of the Hour and He it is Who sends down the rain and knows that which is in the wombs and no-one knows whatsoever he shall earn tomorrow, and a person knows not in whatsoever land he shall die. Verily Allah is All-Aware, Omniscient."
At this the person turned back and went away. The Messenger of Allah, may peace be upon him, said, "Bring that man back to me." The Disciples went to bring him back, but they saw nothing there. Upon this the Messenger of Allah remarked, "He was the Archangel Gabriel, who came to teach the people their religion."
The Hadith is pretty self-explanatory and does not require much elaboration. It is the single most important narration in Sunni theology forming the core six articles of Islamic belief and the five pillars of faith.

We start by understanding what is Imaan. Imaan is to confirm the Existence and Divine Oneness of God — Allah subhana wa ta'ala — rejecting all equals to Him and His Power, affirming no Supreme Authority exists but He. Next, we tackle with the understanding of Islam, that is, Submission.

After confirming His Existence and Oneness, affirming that He exists and He is the Only One so to Him, the Almighty God of Abraham, belongs Sovereignty of the Heavens and the Earth, our next order of business is to submit to His Will acknowledging He is All-Wise, All-Powerful and there is no Power in existence but He. This act of submission is Islam and the one who performs it is a Muslim.

Finally, we have Ihsan, which is, Excellence in Worship, that is, to worship Allah subhana wa ta'ala as if one sees Him and keeping in mind that He sees us. This reminds me of a dear friend's mantra he invoked before every prayer, "Pray to Allah as if you see Him, for verily He sees you."

— Fahim Ferdous Promi


  1. Alhaamdullillaah . A very well written piece. And I really needed this for Ramadan. Good work!

    1. If you're interested, the second article to the series is here: